Matthew Norman: Ye of little faith, hark the voice of the Vatican


If there's a finer and more fearless organ than L'Osservatore Romano anywhere on the planet today, I'd love to know what it is.

Mischievously described as the "semi-official" newspaper of the Vatican – a slur similar to slandering the Daily Mirror (see below) as the semi-official newspaper of No 10 – it flourishes under editor-in-chief Giovanni Maria Vian. His leader dismissing as malevolent conspiracy theorising the current nonsense about Hitler Youth pontiff Benedict XVI – real name: Joseph Ratzinger – is a classic.

As his leader makes plain, the charge of cover up has been all got up by the press, and is "clearly an ignoble attempt to strike at Pope Benedict at any cost". Yet the masterstroke here lay in Signor Vian's skilful pre-emption last June of any criticism now that his paper trivialises allegations of the kind. "No accusation, however serious or shameful," L'Osservatore's Michael Jackson eulogy put it, "is enough to tarnish his myth among his millions of fans ..." What cleverness to seize that chance, in the midst of an unending but ever worsening scandal, to ridicule the notion that the Vatican takes an atypically liberal approach to paedophilia. When Vian took the job in 2007, the Pope welcomed him with an open letter. "As I invoke the mother protection of Mary Most Holy," wrote Benedict 16, "I gladly impart my blessing to everyone as a pledge of abundant heavenly favours." Abundant earthly favours aren't so bad either, and you cannot put a price on editorial independence.

Red Kev

Which brings us to the Mirror, where the commitment to keeping Downing Street at arm's length dwarfs L'Osservatore's freedom from Vatican influence. Let's state as certain fact the following: there is no truth in the gossip, spread by more of those pesky conspiracy theorists, that political supremo Kevin Maguire, pictured, has applied for deed poll and intends, just to avoid confusing the readership, to change his name to Charlie Whelan. Regardless of the rumour, these two are separate entities and have been often seen in the same room ... the time, for example, Kevin attended a meeting (in a purely private capacity) at Charlie's Unite office, joining Damian McBride and others to debate how best to spread misinformation about Tory Toffs and their silver-spooned spouses. Not another word about the paper being Gordon Brown's house bulletin, if you please, for a very long time.

It's 'The Sun' wot blew it

Barely less impressive in analysing the Budget's implications, albeit from a marginally altered perspective, was The Sun, where cerebral editor Dominic Mohan struggles to learn a lesson. Perhaps the problem is distance. Wapping sources report that Dominic has taken to editing by video conference from his newly leased Oxfordshire cottage, 2.7mm to the north of David Cameron's colon. Whatever the reason, Dom still hasn't grasped that dementedly one-sided political coverage usually helps the intended victim. The start of Labour's partial recovery, for instance, can be dated to Dominic's hysterical attack on Gordon Brown's poor spelling in that letter to a bereaved military mother. If the PM should somehow hold on to power, it will be a toss up as to which of Kevin and Dominic deserves the knighthood more.

Yes she can

I haven't the strength to dwell on Melanie Phillips this week, so suffice it that on her blog she continues to compare Obama to Hitler (the latest elegance being to paint Israel as Czechoslovakia in 1939). More, perhaps, next week as the diplomatic tension tests her fabled self-control further. As for those of you who have asked whether Mad Mel really did use the phrase "final solution" regarding US policy towards Israel, yes she did.

Go Gaunty!

On an otherwise hideous Press Awards night for The Sun, which (along with The Times) was cruelly reminded that it was offered the MPs' expenses data before The Daily Telegraph but didn't fancy it, thank God for Gaunty! SunTalk's receipt of the digital innovation prize was richly deserved. A radio station without listeners...does it get any more innovative than that?

Cruellest cuts

And so to the Mirror's sparkling budget coverage, the highlight of which came even before Alistair Darling's speech. Once again Kevin takes the laurels for Cam's Just A Spitting Image Of Thatcher, published on the morning of the Budget. Coming the day before Darling conceded that any spending cuts of his would be "tougher and deeper" than Thatcher's ever were ... magnificent stuff. So was the little box in Kevin's column praising Liam Byrne – the surest-footed cabinet media performer, on current form. The Treasury Chief Secretary bathed in this adulation for a day, before confirming on BBC One's Question Time that any future Labour cuts will make Thatcher seem cuddly. In political writing, as with stand-up comedy, timing is all.


A warm welcome to our new Russian owners – does anyone know the correct cyrillic lettering for “sycophancy”?

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